Dave’s Off-Season Plan, Part Two
So, last week, I laid out my suggestion for an approach the team could take to add the impact bat that everyone wants to see on the roster. Of course, the specific hitter targeted very well might not be available, so I said I’d introduce another plan that worked off the assumption that Joey Votto couldn’t be acquired. This is that plan, though you’ll notice it goes in an entirely different direction.
Essentially, in looking at what kind of offensive upgrades are on the market this winter, I simply don’t like the various paths the team could take. Yes, they could throw a huge amount of money at Prince Fielder, but given the costs associated with winning a bidding war for his services and the risks associated with his future production, it’s simply not a strategy that I think would be in the organization’s best interests. Beyond Fielder (and Pujols, who also isn’t coming here), it’s not a very good market for hitters. And so, while everyone wants the team to focus on upgrading the offense, I’m going the other direction.
The team still has a built-in competitive advantage for left-handed pitchers in Safeco Field. Because of how the park plays, LHPs garner a significant benefit from signing in Seattle, and the team can get a better return on investment from investing in left-handed pitching than just about any other type of player. There actually are some talented LHPs on the market this winter, and given the benefits the Mariners can offer southpaws, getting them to sign here is less challenging than trying to convince a power hitter.
So, this plan allocates most of the Mariners money this winter to rebuilding the pitching staff, and gives the team the opportunity to have one of the best run prevention units in baseball. It doesn’t do as much to fix the glaring problems on offense, but unfortunately, I’m not sure I see many good paths to do that this winter. Instead, by building out a potentially top-shelf pitching staff, the team sets themselves up to try to repeat the success of teams like the 2010 Padres. The goal – have the best pitching in the league and an offense that’s close enough to average to win enough low scoring games to contend.
I know people are tired of this kind of roster construction, and just want to see some people who can hit the baseball a long ways. But, forcing yourself down that path regardless of the wisdom of pursuing the available options is a great way to make mistakes that could hurt the franchise long term. Instead, the organization essentially kicks the can on the offense down the road, giving them further time to evaluate the young hitters that finished the season as regulars, and gives them enough pitching depth to make moves to acquire offense either in July or next winter, when better paths to rebuilding the offense arise and the team has a better feel for which guys already in the organization are part of the solution or not.
It’s the kind of off-season that likely wouldn’t be very popular in Seattle, but it would give the team enough talent to be respectable in 2012 while figuring out just how many of the offensive question marks can be useful pieces in the long term. This plan is more of a continue-to-evaluate option than an attempt to drastically upgrade the offense, but I’d prefer to see the team exercise patience than risk the long term viability of the franchise by going for a quick fix that just may not be possible.
With all that said, here is how the Mariners could spend the cash they have available this winter while keeping their options open going forward.
Sign LHP Chris Capuano to a 2 year, $12 million contract.
Sign RHP Frank Francisco to a 1 year, $5 million contract.
Sign LHP Erik Bedard to a 1 year, $4 million contract.
Sign OF/DH Ryan Doumit to a 1 year, $4 million contract.
Sign C Chris Snyder to a 1 year, $3 million contract.
The money gets spread around rather than spent in one place, but Capuano gets the largest share of the available cash. I advocated the team sign him last winter too, when he was significantly cheaper, but all of the reasons for signing him that were true a year ago are true again. His inflated ERA will keep his price down relative to his actual talent levels, and with Safeco Field helping to alleviate his HR problems, he could be a pretty terrific pitcher for the Mariners.
The other largest chunk of change goes to a relief pitcher, which is probably a bit surprising given our insistance that teams can build a bullpen on the cheap without having to pay market rates for them. However, Francisco likely won’t be looking at a multi-year contract due to his home run problems, and on a one year deal, he’s the kind of guy that the team could get value from, especially if League ended up being traded for offense early in the season.
I talked about Bedard and Snyder last week, so we’ll mostly just skip over their places on the roster. That leaves Ryan Doumit as the final free agent signing, and unfortunately, as the guy who would receive most of the attention as the offensive upgrade of the winter.
You’ll notice first off that Doumit is not listed as a catcher – I’d ask him to turn in his catcher’s gear and transition to a OF/DH full-time. He’s not a good receiver anyway, and the wear and tear of catching has led to many of his health problems. Moving him out from behind the plate would hopefully keep him healthier and offer the potential for better offensive performance than he’s historically had, as there’s evidence that the rigors of catching hold down a player’s production at the plate. He’s unlikely to repeat the .360 wOBA he posted last year, but his offensive performance would likely be maximized by having him play the outfield, and he’d give the team an above-average switch-hitter with some power. He’s not any kind of life-saver, but he’d be a relatively low cost offensive upgrade and give the team some positional flexibility with the rest of the roster.
With those moves in place, the final roster would look like this.
Adding Doumit to the mix gives the team the ability to have 1B/DH/LF shared between two switch-hitters, a left-hander, and a right-hander – it’s setup well for Smoak, Carp, Doumit, and Wells to be placed in positions where they could perform the best, and then it’s just up for them to hit well enough to justify their spots in the line-up. The offense would essentially depend on those four providing power, and would sink or swim based on the level of production the team got from those players.
If they produce, and the team gets enough on-base ability from the likes of Ackley, Seager, and Gutierrez, the offense could be not-horrible, and the pitching staff would be among the best in baseball. Of course, we’ve seen that kind of plan go wrong the last couple of years, so there’s obvious risks associated with this type of strategy. However, it gives the team a chance at respectability in 2012, gives the team more time to evaluate the young talent already in house, and preserves the flexibility needed to make a move for a premium hitter should the right opportunity arise. With a strong, deep pitching staff, the team would be setup well to move pitching for hitting this summer, whether it’s dealing from the Major League roster if the team wasn’t a contender or moving from the supply of arms at the minor league level if they found themselves as buyers.
It’s not a flashy winter, but it’s a practical one that gives the team options and lets them continue along the path to rebuilding from within. It would require more patience from fans, but if a guy like Votto is out of reach, than staying the course is probably the best plan for the organization this winter.